RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Activists in more than half the states in the nation marched and rallied Monday, calling on elected officials to view public policies through a moral lens that focuses on the poor, workers, the sick and other disenfranchised people.
The rallies held Monday were part of the "Higher Ground Moral Day of Action," led by the Rev. William Barber. Barber is the architect of the "Moral Monday" protests that begin in April 2013 in North Carolina to fight the conservative politics of a Republican governor and legislature.
The rallies, scheduled in 30 state capitals and Washington, D.C., attracted crowds ranging from about 300 people in Raleigh to about 50 in Austin, Texas. People marched around state Capitol buildings, rallied and delivered petitions to governors and other elected leaders and candidates.
"Today we declare ... a call to higher ground," said Barber, who took a spot in the national limelight when he spoke this year at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. "And we move from the lowlands of hatred and racism and meanness and the politics of just you can defeat and who you can disparage to higher ground."
The activists asked elected officials and candidates to sign a "Higher Ground Moral Declaration" to support issues that include voting rights, economic justice, workers' rights, health care and the rights of LGBTQ people. In North Carolina, they said they were unable to reach Gov. Pat McCrory.
Miriam Thompson, 79, of Chapel Hill, sat on a bench with friends before the rally started, saying she has supported Barber since his early marches that began in 2007.
With her "Rosie the Riveter" tattoo displayed prominently on her upper right arm, she described herself as a long-time union supporter who supports the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and its moral message "to give the workers and their labor the kind of respect they deserve and the ability to raise their families in dignity."
Rallies in other states attracted crowds of varying sizes with most people talking about the fight for $15.
About 200 people rallied on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg before some brought their issues to the governor's office while others marched around the outside of the building.
In addition to the minimum wage increase, they also advocated for action on climate change and greater use of clean energy, prison reform and union rights.
Yusef Jones of Paoli, a paralegal, called the group "a coalition of the marginalized."
In April, California became the first state to adopt a $15 minimum wage so the rally in Sacramento focused on expanding union rights, improving working conditions and combating racism.
"It's not fair that it's only here in California," Osler Flores, a 19-year-old fast-food worker from Huntington Park near Los Angeles, said of the minimum wage increase. "It should be spread across the nation."
In Nashville, Tennessee, the rally coincided with the first day of a three-day specially called session of the Legislature.
Kristina Jones, a home health care worker in Memphis, said she works for $9 an hour part time. She said she loves her work but is not making enough to get by.
"I have a son who is 2 years old," she said. "There are times when I have to decide whether to pay my car note or my light bill. I don't want to be rich. I just want to live comfortably."
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AP reporters Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee; Jonathan Cooper in Sacramento, California; and Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this story.